20 December 2015

From Bean to Bar: Ethical Chocolate with a Healthy Twist

I KNOW THERE are many chocolate lovers bracing themselves for a hefty gym schedule in the New Year.  Selection boxes and sweets – mandatory Christmas indulgences – are a neverending pursuit at this time of year.  If I were to tell you there is indeed a chocolate that is good for you, you’d probably believe me as much as one would a tubby bearded man flying through the sky with a troupe of reindeer.

However, research recently conducted by Queen Margaret University has shown Scottish chocolatier The Chocolate Tree has a ‘bar-to-bean’ range produced using ethically sourced cocoa beans that will alleviate some of that guilt.

Nutrition experts at the university have found that when eaten in moderation, the premium chocolate produced by the Edinburgh-based company contains high levels of polyphenols that offer certain health benefits that include lowering the risk of heart disease.

Credit: Erik Hammar
Dr. Mary Warnock, Senior Lecturer in Dietetics, Nutrition, and Biological Sciences at QMU, explained: “Polyphenols actively work in the body to prevent certain disease mechanisms occurring. Polyphenols are antioxidants from plant foods and it is generally believed that they may reduce the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and can help protect the body from chronic disease.”

Importing cocoa beans from Madagascar, Ecuador and Peru, the company focuses on highly ethical sourcing, using only the finest raw ingredients to create their chocolates.  The minimal processing of such fine produce not only leads to a high-end, premium product, but also maintains the natural qualities of the raw ingredients to maximise the natural polyphenols and antioxidants.

Dr. Warnock added: “The study recognised that the great care taken by The Chocolate Tree to apply minimal processing methods in the creation of its high-end chocolate ensured the preservation of naturally occurring attributes within its final product.”

Credit: Erik Hammar
The Chocolate Tree was founded out of sheer passion by Ali and Friederike Gower in 2005 when the couple travelled around music festivals in a solar-powered geodesic dome tent, nourishing weary festival goers in their organic chocolate café serving cakes and hot chocolate.

The feedback inspired them to combine Friederike’s love of baking and Ali’s ambitions to run a business and they graduated to selling their chocolate bars at farmers’ markets, independent retailers and farm shops, gradually growing the reputation of The Chocolate Tree brand.  The success saw their first shop open in Bruntsfield in 2009, and their chocolate now sells to ethical, independent and high-end retailers around the globe.

The key factors in creating these exquisite chocolate treats compared to a typical bar you find on a supermarket shelf is largely down to the processing method, as well as the standard of ingredients.

Credit: Erik Hammar
Ali explains: “The difference cannot be understated. Techniques used to create mass produced chocolate are vastly different from those used by craft chocolate makers. It comes down to attention to detail in every step of the production, from the steps taken at origin to ferment and dry the cacao and the difference in the genetics of the cacao. At our end, it means obsessive sorting of the beans, gentle roasting, adding ingredients in a certain order and using specific techniques and equipment during conching (flavour development) to create flavours the mass produced market can’t touch.”

Now, chocolate this good does come at a price, with the average craft chocolate bar priced at around £6 for 80g, and there needs to be an obvious reason to convince people it's worth it. Ali elaborates:

“I’ve conducted taste tests that compare our bars to supermarket 'finest' ranges, and people are genuinely impressed. It’s important for me to show this, as the price difference is significant. It’s not too different from a blended whisky vs. a single malt, or a cheap wine vs. a good vintage.”

The Chocolate Tree’s ethos in terms of responsibly locating their ingredients and the importance of strong links with growers is highly commendable, and although this essential relationship contributes to the price, it offers numerous other benefits on top of the health ones.

Credit: Erik Hammar
“Working directly with the growers allows us to encourage agricultural techniques which benefit the environment, as well as introducing people to truly excellent chocolate, the likes of which many consumers have never tried before. It’s a great benefit for the farmers to work with people who really care about what is coming from the land. The most important thing is that they are paid a premium for the crops.

“A premium means a significantly better price than the typical market price or Fairtrade certified price. Craft chocolate makers will pay as much as $10 per kg for well-processed beans, while the New York Cocoa Price (standard market price) can be around $3 per kg. This money goes into social improvements and better post-harvest facilities to care for the cocoa.”

The Gowers made full use of the excellent facilities at the new Centre for Food Development and Innovation at Queen Margaret University, where they used the research not only to enhance their products' appeal and learn of its nutritional values, but also to showcase their principles in working ethically with organic farmers across the world.

Credit: Erik Hammar
“Queen Margaret University was able to provide scientific evidence of the antioxidant profile and mineral content of our organic certified ‘bean-to-bar’ range and provide professional guidance on the health and nutritional aspects of our products. This is helping us develop accurate information for labelling and marketing purposes.

“Ultimately, we hope to use Queen Margaret’s research to help us campaign for better transparency in the chocolate industry. It will also allow us to showcase how companies can work ethically by supporting organic farmers in Peru, Madagascar, and Ecuador by sourcing cocoa directly from the growers for the manufacturer in order to make ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate.”

Having sampled the merchandise, the differences in Ali and Friederike's chocolate compared to more commercial brands is truly worlds apart. The depth of character from each different variety and knowing that this craft is conducted with superb passion and skill means that I'll be looking forward to a guilt-free, choctastic Christmas with added health benefits.

Credit Erik Hammar
With a delightful range of chocolates to complement their ‘bean-to-bar range’, The Chocolate Tree offers quirky creations incorporating some of Scotland’s other outstanding foods and drink, such as Haggis Spice, Bramble, and Cardamon and Beer chocolate.  There is also a very special Christmas range on offer; what better festive gift can be found now that you can explain to loved ones the inspirational story behind these local, handmade goodies?

Web: www.choctree.co.uk
Twitter: @Choctree
The Chocolate Tree,
123 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4AQ
11 Hardgate, Haddington, EH41 3JW

For further information on the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation visit: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/business_industry/scottish-centre-food-development-innovation.htm

Special thanks to Lynne Russell at Queen Margaret University and Ben Gould for his invaluable time

17 December 2015

Review: Bread Meats Bread, Edinburgh

POPULAR GLASGOW BURGER joint, Bread Meats Bread, has joined the Edinburgh burger scene, occupying the site on Lothian Road recently vacated by Yummi Tori. No doubt hoping to emulate the success of Burger Meats Bun, who opened their second restaurant in the capital last year, we popped in for a late afternoon bite to see what all the hype was about.

If first impressions are anything to go by, a full restaurant as early as 5pm on a Tuesday shows there is plenty of intrigue surrounding this opening.  The pristine new interior features a busy open kitchen, and I find the restaurant is more spacious than I initially thought after taking our seats to peruse the menu.  The menu speaks of the quality of ingredients proudly used and offers up a range of different sandwiches and hot dogs alongside the burger options. They also serve carafes of wine - I like that, and don’t know why more places don’t.

I was intrigued to try poutine for the first time having had a chat recently with a chap looking to start a new business called The Poutine Wagon. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a sort of comfort food consisting of chips, cheese curds and gravy that originates from Quebec, Canada.

BMB serves up a few different versions, but I stuck to the classic version, on offer for £4.  Now, it seems pretty standard with this sort of establishment that you require a side dish along with your burger, but it’s different here; these, along with Sarah’s side, which I’ll get to, were mammoth.portions.  A huge bowl of chips swimming in a sweet, yet beefy gravy topped with oozy, rich cheese was a stonking dish on its own, and I hadn’t even touched my burger yet! Having sized up the menu, 
I went for the Spartan burger, which included salami, tzatziki, crushed chillies, tomatoes and harissa mayo (£7.50). Brimming with meaty flavour and cooked pink, the peppery salami was met by a dash of soothing tzatziki and bite of fresh tomato, encased in a steamed bun, robust enough to manage the entire sitting without wilting away. My only criticism is that I didn't get any chilli heat, which would have scored an extra point, but a satisfying eat overall.

Opting for a simple cheeseburger (£6.50), this would be a decisive test for any burger establishment worth its salt, and Sarah was impressed with the well-seasoned patty, the freshness of the salad components and molten cheese.  Her side of sweet potato fries (£3) were crispy and, as with my side, a portion you could easily share.

I’m confident Bread Meats Bread will be a hit in this neck of the woods and certainly avoid the fate suffered by previous tenants.  The food is good quality, at a competitive price that's ideal for a casual evening bite before catching a movie at one of the various nearby cinemas. Another interesting addition to the capital’s burger scene.

Web: breadmeatsbread.com
Phone: (0131) 229 2206 (BMB do not reserve tables)

Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11:00 - 22:00
                          Sun 11:00 - 20:00

Bread Meats Bread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 December 2015

Recipe: Garlic, Olive and Parmesan Fougasse

MAKING BREAD IS one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen.  From making a mess with flour to the therapeutic kneading of the dough, and the wonderful yeasty aromas from the oven; I just love knocking up a loaf. Although things are getting better slowly in the UK, a recent trip to Spain reminded me how far away we are of providing quality bread for the masses in this country.  This one is ideal for sharing and is quick to make, as it requires little proving.

I have a ton of new season garlic from Gascony in the kitchen, so that was always going in, as well as a few left over olives I found lurking in the fridge.  I couldn't make this without Parmigiano Reggiano - just a perfect ingredient that every kitchen should have.

You can vary toppings as you please.  Chorizo, red onion and Manchego cheese is another favourite of mine, but a simple Cheddar filling is just as satisfying.

INGREDIENTS (makes one, as pictured)

350g strong organic bread flour, sifted
20g fresh yeast or two sachets of fast action yeast
2 tbsp sugar
175mls lukewarm water (blood temperature)
1 pinch sea salt
Glug of olive oil
6x cloves of garlic, half grated, half thinly sliced
250g Parmigiano Reggiano, 100g grated, the rest shaved
Handful of olives, sliced


1) Pre-heat oven to 180C.  Add the yeast to the water and stir.  If using sachets, just add straight to the flour. In a bowl, add the salt, sugar, olive oil, grated garlic and Parmesan to the flour.  Gradually add the water and mix to a smooth dough.  Knead for about three minutes until the dough can just about hold its shape when pinched.

2) Cover with clingfilm and place in a warm place for 15-20 mins to prove.  The dough should rise in size slightly and give off a beautiful yeasty, beery smell.  Lightly flour your surface, and knead again for a couple of minutes.  
3) Punch the dough out to around an inch thick. Start studding it with the olives, remaining Parmesan shavings and sliced garlic.  Fold the left-hand third into the centre, and repeat with right-hand side, Then fold both into each other.  Take a rolling pin and roll to about half an inch thick. 

4) Place on a lightly oiled tray, but before placing in the oven, put a glass of water in another tray on the shelf below to create steam.  Bake for 25-30 mins. 

1 December 2015

Review: 1051 GWR, Glasgow

I CAN’T SAY that I have many gastronomic memories of Glasgow.  Everywhere I seem to turn, the city reminds me of my (failed) attempts to conquer the music world rather than the culinary one.  It wasn’t that my band (Calm as the Colour) weren’t any good or didn’t achieve success; we just didn’t become the biggest band in the world as I had dreamed.  Luckily, I have this restaurant reviewing gig to fall back on, and tonight we dine at the newly opened 1051 GWR.

The building was designed by the renowned Glaswegian architect Sir J J Burnet, and is steeped in history.  Opening in 1897, the building originally functioned as Kelvinside Station, part of the Glasgow Central Railway Network, but closed in 1942 when it was deemed “too remote”.  In recent times, the structure has hosted various restaurants, but now returns to its roots.  As it transpires, this is no bog-standard train station caff.

Tastefully decorated inside, the lighting is warm without being too low, which was appealing given the atrocious weather of late. A diverse mix of young and old customers alike created a positive atmosphere you could feel a part of, with the layout affording you privacy at the same time.  A passion for craft beer, particularly Glasgow brewed, was obvious, with a long range of shiny new taps jostling for position behind the bar, and a regularly rotated railway station-style menu board installed to assist with your selections.

I begin with hot smoked salmon with potato salad (£5.95) from a starters menu that doubles as a small plates one.  It’s an extensive offering that caters for all needs whether it be bar bites to the more refined, gastropubby options such as scallops with black pudding or moules marinères. The presentation was neat and the portion size ideal to start a meal.  The moist fish was tamed perfectly by the creamy mayo, with a little mustard dressing seasoning the dish whilst adding a little warmth at the back of the palette.  The potatoes and crunch from the chives popped up to bring texture and complete a simple, well-balanced plate of food.

Sarah opted for king prawns in tempura batter with mango, ginger and chilli salsa with sweet chilli dip (£5.95).  This is one of these dishes that always promises so much, yet gets massacred time and time again, so much so that I just never risk ordering it.  However, faith was restored when three plump shellfish in an impressively light-looking batter arrived.  I like seeing knife skills displayed on a plate and that was apparent in the neat little salsa accompanying those deliciously sweet prawns.  
The batter was as good as it looked with the meaty seafood juicy and flavoursome.  I’m impressed.

The mains menu comprises of both a grill and mains section with specials displayed above the bar.  I select pan-fried bavette of Scotch beef with café de Paris butter and beef dripping chips (£15.95).  Bavette can be a tricky customer if not given due care; thankfully it was on this occasion, with pink meat bursting with notes of beefiness that my knife sailed through with consummate ease. The butter tasted sublime, but it was clearly just retrieved from the chiller, meaning the temperature of the beef wasn’t maintained as long as I’d have liked.  Nothing a quick flash under the salamander or a couple of minutes out of the fridge wouldn’t resolve. It did make a mean sauce to dunk the crispy chips in, which was an added bonus to an enjoyable dish.

Over the table, Sarah mix and matched grill options, ordering two lamb cutlets, a featherblade steak with a side of gratin dauphinoise, and red wine jus for £13.95 all in.  The lamb was sufficiently caramelised on the outside and perfectly medium-rare in the middle, with the featherblade executed just as accurately.  The quality of the meat throughout was obvious from the depth of flavour from each product.The real star was the side orders: the dauphinoise was a rich, indulgent portion of heaven with a wonderful cheesiness to them, with the honey roasted carrots (£2.95) a sweet and earthy indulgence in themselves.  We loved the hint of caraway that just added another well-thought out dimension.

Exemplary service will clearly be a major part in the success of 1051 GWR.  There has been clear investment front-of-house, with waiting staff clutching iPads along with their new POS system.  The staff had a calm efficiency about them and I liked that they dispensed little samples of beer to customers; extras go a long way, and even more so when the restaurant is practically full.

All good things must end and I left with a sticky toffee pudding (£4.95) that I’d be pretty proud of.  It was so light and fluffy that I could have made room for another slab.  Sarah enjoyed caramelised apple tart tatin with salted caramel ice cream for just under £6. The pastry was crisp on the outside with a little soggy bit in the middle that I actually enjoy more.  The apples held up well rather than being reduced to mush, while the sweet and saltiness from the ice cream harmonised with the sharp fruit.

If you had told me beforehand that this place had only been open for a few weeks, I wouldn’t have believed you. There were certainly signs of a slick operation here with focus on service and good, solid cooking.  When I think gastropub, I think fresh, unpretentious food at affordable prices in a welcoming surrounding; that is the clear vision here and it was impressively achieved on this occasion. Rock ‘n’ roll may be dying, but 1051 GWR is tuning up to reach the top of the Glasgow food scene charts.  Restaurant reviewing is the new rock ‘n’ roll, right?

1051 GWR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoOpening times: Mon-Sun 10am-12am

Web: 1051gwr.co.uk
Address: 1051 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 0XP
Phone: (0141) 339 5575

2 November 2015

Recipe: All-in-one sausage and vegetable roast with mustard dressing

THIS DISH CAME from watching an extract on Saturday Kitchen, where Mary Berry cooked a nearly identical dish.  The reason I cooked it and posted it wasn't just because of its simplicity, but because it's all too rare that you see a "realistic" dish on a cookery show these days.

It seems that there are more shows on TV these days than ever before, yet people still aren't cooking from scratch, despite an obvious interest in the subject. There seems to be a new cookbook in the top sellers list every other week, so why aren't we cooking more? The Delia-type of cook  has essentially been replaced by top end chefs, not that there is anything wrong with that, but are these chefs making home cooking seem too ambitious? I'll leave that one for you to ponder...

Anyway, on with the dish... I love shopping for food, as you all know, and sampling the different varieties of banger on offer from Edinburgh's butchers is a true delight.  I think it's about time we launch a competition just to see who produces "Edinburgh's best banger", don't you think?

Ingredients (serves 2)

5x Piccante sausages from Crombie's of Edinburgh (three for me, two for Sarah!)
1x large red onion
1x courgette
5x Rooster potatoes (Mary Berry uses baby boilers in her recipe), chopped into equal cubes
1x red pepper, roughly chopped
150mls white wine
Zest of a lemon
1tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Olive oil
Tbsp wholegrain mustard
1tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper 

1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C whilst prepping the veg. Place all the chopped veg into a large roasting tray.  Drizzle with olive oil, chilli flakes, lemon zest and salt and pepper then toss until coated.  Rub a little oil over the sausages and place them on top of the veg. Place tray on the top shelf of the oven for around 30 mins.

2) After half an hour, turn the sausages and add the white wine.  Place back in the oven for 20 mins.

3) For the dressing, mix three part olive oil to the balsamic and mustard, add a tiny pinch of salt and stir. 

4) Remove from oven and serve.  Drizzle the dressing over and serve.

8 October 2015

Review: Burger Meats Bun, Edinburgh

IT CAN BE difficult to find restaurants outside of the Michelin stratosphere that take the time and have the pride to source quality ingredients, never mind deliver them at an affordable price.  Burger Meats Bun is the brainchild of two gentlemen who believe they can do so and a full restaurant, as it always has been when visiting, is a sure sign they’re doing a great job.

Having opened their first branch in Glasgow, Ben Dantzic and James Forrest devised the idea for a burger restaurant using top produce whilst working together at Geoffrey Smeddle’s Michelin-starred restaurant, The Peat Inn.  The Edinburgh branch opened in 2013 and has established a firm reputation as one of the capital’s quirkiest burger joints.

The menu signals BMB’s intent when it comes to provenance, stating that they 'use the best Scotch beef from The Aberfoyle Butchers' as well as slow grown, free-range chicken from Gartmorn Farm. There is a full list of their suppliers on their website, but I’ll let you check that out in due course. 

I ordered the smokin’ bacon, which features home-cured and smoked bacon, Keen’s cheddar (my personal fav) with BMB sauce and onions (£8.50, with a side of Maldon salt chips for £2.50).

I tucked into the fries first and was instantly impressed with the quality of potato used.  They were a little limp to be fair, but I enjoy chips that way, especially with good salt to add necessary seasoning.  As I unwrapped the burger from its playful fast food-style wrapping, I knew I was onto a winner.  The juicy meat patty was brimming with beefy goodness and well-seasoned, with crispy, fresh salad accompaniments you often find are just a token gesture on burgers.  The bun was robust enough to soak up the meat juices, while the melted cheese added another layer of flavour to this delicious offering.

Our friendly waitress delivered Sarah’s selection, 'hot chic': breaded chicken breast, Toma Ranchera cheese, mayo (which she omitted) and chipotle sauce (£8.50) with a side of Thai chilli cheese chips for an additional £3.50. The spicy, smoky sauce was delicious alongside a crispy, tender chicken burger that showed no hints of grease.  The fries were a notable highlight, while the texture of the spring onions and warmth from the chilli lead to a harmonious eat.

I hereby promise to eat at Burger Meats Bun more often.  Great produce and thoughtful cooking are key to any good burger, and they have a proven track record.  A great list of craft beers and quirky cocktails only enhances the experience of this budget-friendly restaurant, so if you haven’t been, please give it a bash.

Web: http://www.burger-meats-bun.co.uk/
Address: 1 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3JX
Phone: (0131) 556 7023

Opening times:

Tues - Sun 12:00 - 21:30

Burger Meats Bun Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 September 2015

Recipe: Lanarkshire lamb shanks with ratatouille, mini roast potatoes and feta

SATURDAY'S USUALLY INVOLVE a stroll through the Edinburgh Farmers' Market on my lunch break.  This week, I picked up some stunning lamb shanks from the Carmichael Estate stand with a view to rustling up Sunday lunch.

I buy meat from this producer nearly every week and always find it of exceptional quality and value. As I research the farm, it turns out the Carmichael family have been farming this land since 1292, which is just incredible. Their stocks are fed on grass or home-grown feed, which is crucial not just for flavour, but for the wellbeing of the animal, too. There is also an abattoir and butchery onsite, reducing stress for the animals to ensure that their journey from nature to fork is as pleasant as possible.

With my oven currently out of action, I've been relying heavily on my slow cooker. which is great as it means fewer dishes to clean up! The addition of feta actually came about as I had been watching Sat Bains cooking lamb with the cheese on Saturday Kitchen the previous morning - thanks for the inspiration, Sat!


2x lamb shanks
2x onions, roughly chopped
2x cloves garlic, bashed still in skin
Good quality lamb or chicken stock, enough to cover
1x aubergine, diced
1x red onion, sliced
1x courgette, diced
Tin of good quality tomatoes
2x cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1tsp tomato puree
Few sprigs of thyme
1x block of feta cheese
Handful of baby potatoes (Maris Peer in this instance)
Sea salt and pepper
Small glass of red wine
Olive oil


1) Brown the shanks on the hob in your slow cooker bowl.  Set aside and gently sweat the onions for ten mins, then add the garlic for a further minute.  Return the lamb to the pot, season and cover with stock.  Return to slow cooker base and place on 'low' setting for 3-4 hours.

2) Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the potatoes.  Until tender, but not cooked through. Slice in half and set aside.

3) For the ratatouille, begin by sweating the red onions in olive oil for 3-4 mins until softened.  Then add the garlic and tomato puree for a further minute.  Add the aubergine and courgette then mix around.  If you don't have a pot big enough to do this effectively, sweat each individual component off in batches.

4) Next, add the tinned tomatoes, thyme and mix. Season, then leave to simmer gently for around 30 mins, or until softened.  You don't want to overcook it, or it'll turn to mush.

5) When the lamb is flaking from the bone, allow a good 15 mins to rest.  Place a pot on the hob and add the red wine, reduce by half.  Strain a couple of ladles of the cooking liquor into the pot and reduce down to a thick, treacle-like consistency.

6) At the last minute, heat a frying pan on the hob with some oil and butter and toss in the potatoes.  Cook for a couple of minutes until lightly coloured.  Whisk in a knob of butter to the sauce.

7) Place the ratatouille (remember to check seasoning) into the centre of the bowl, with the lamb shank on top.  Place a few of the potatoes around the bowl.  Glaze the lamb with the sauce and crumble the feta around the dish.


16 September 2015

Review : One Square, Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh

BEGINNING NEW JOBS recently has meant that Sarah and I are in close enough proximity to meet for lunch, which usually ends up being around Festival Square, at the West End of Princes Street.  This has drawn my attention to One Square, which is located within the Sheraton hotel, an etsablishment of which I've heard numerous positive things.

With me always running excitedly early, we had time to enjoy a cheeky glass of prosecco in the bar beforehand, where we discussed the spacious, bright, modern interior.  Having to refuse a bowl of nuts due to my allergy, our waiter informed us that he would let the kitchen know to save us the trouble.

I was ravenous so decided to finish our bubbles in the restaurant, me still very impressed with the communication and preparation of the staff in regards to my nut allergy.  It might sound a simple thing, but given it’s life threatening, you would be amazed at how many restaurants are very casual about it.

The menu showcased a pleasing amount of modern Scottish seafood dishes, particularly in the mains section, with a more routine steak/beef description stating that One Square is “a proud member of the Scotch Beef Club”.  This combination made the visit difficult when it came to choosing our dishes. First-world problems.

I knew Sarah would punt for the grilled Troon langoustines with lemon, garlic butter and mayonnaise (£13), while I went for the shellfish bisque with Parmesan, paprika crouton and soured cream (£9.50).  Expectations were high as we discussed previously successful attempts of both.

The langoustines arrived in a quirky metal basket with branded paper, and certainly smelled delicious where I was sitting.  The flesh was juicy and cooked on the money with the lemon providing seasoning.  They maybe could have been a little bolder with the garlic, but otherwise a fine way to open a meal. 

My bisque was a deep red shade and certainly had a robust shellfish flavour to it, as you would expect.  The soured cream just halted that richness, but the whole thing needed a big whack of seasoning to elevate it.  The texture of the crouton was far too soft, although it tasted fine. 

I really fancied  a steak but I prefer to experience the more creative side to the kitchen team when reviewing, so I opted for scallops with spiced white chocolate puree, burnt spring onions, champagne samphire, and gooseberry caviar (£29.50), as well as a side of courgette chips (£3.95).

On first inspection, I thought this plate looked like a small portion, but it went down perfectly.  Tender, meaty scallops were masterfully handled and I liked the rather grown-up white chocolate, which had  a slight aniseed twang to it,  far more than I expected.  Champagne can often be hit or miss in dishes, but I was very impressed with the acidity levels and the texture added from the samphire; that really worked with the scallop.  My only issues were that the carrot was cold and the dish again lacked seasoning.

Sarah decided to try the stuffed loin of rabbit with Talisker puree, braised leg square, roast asparagus and charred baby carrots (£25.00), with a side of buttered Jersey Royals for an additional £3.95.  Stunningly presented, this dish set the bar high.  Unfortunately, while the black pudding was delicious, there was far too much of it in relation to the resultantly overpowered rabbit.  The crisp beignet was thoroughly enjoyable, the standout element being the expertly cooked Jersey Royals. The Talisker puree was a little disappointing, but the accompanying jus provided a superb sauce to bind the dish.  The veg elements were competently executed, but a bit more generosity wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

We found the front-of-house staff very efficient and professional, offering great service to us and other diners alike all evening.  I think Sarah is convinced I’m ignoring her sometimes, but I like to listen into other tables to check consistency and how issues, if they arise, are handled.

I was deeply in need of a palate-cleansing pudding to finish off but found the chocolate fondant with popcorn ice cream and vanilla sauce (£8) too much to resist.  However, while cooked well enough, the fondant lacked the intense flavour of a real quality dark chocolate.  All was not lost, though, as the popcorn ice cream was one the finest components of the night, with the vanilla cream providing a soothing note.  Shame about that fondant though…

Priced at £7, Sarah concluded with crème caramel, toffee foam, caramel with tonka bean ice cream and toffee sponge.  Another stunningly presented plate served up a sufficiently wobbly set custard and the tonka bean ice cream was truly sublime.  The little toffee chards were tasty, but the sponge was a tad dry. Perhaps a more bitter crème caramel topping would have benefitted it, but it was an enjoyable eat overall.

I’m still unsure where I’m at with this one.  There was a great deal to be impressed with at One Square tonight; the execution and presentation was excellent and the service was first class throughout, but I was disappointed with the seasoning in places.   With pricing just shy of the Michelin joints, I think it’s just about right for what was a pretty enjoyable, if  imperfect evening.

Address: 1 Festival Square,
                EH3 9SR

Phone: (0131) 221 6422

Web: http://www.onesquareedinburgh.co.uk/

One Square Restaurant - The Sheraton Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoSquare Meal

9 September 2015

Phil's Food World Named In Top 50 UK Food Blogs

I AM DELIGHTED to have been named in the Top 50 Most Trusted Food Blogs in the UK, even if I did sneak in at number 49!  Having had a quick squint through, there are some top food blogs in there, so have a little look through them and enjoy. Have a read http://www.rebateszone.com/top-food-blogs-in-uk-to-follow

Top 50 Food Blogs In UK

3 September 2015

Review: Rivage, Easter Road, Edinburgh

I HAVE TO say that I’m embarrassed that I’ve yet to have reviewed Rivage, given it has been my most frequented restaurant in the last two-and-a-half years. Though a gastronomic hotspot, Easter Road is more associated with football than dining, but with the much-celebrated Manna House bakery, firmly-established Italian, Al Dente, as well as Cornelius wine shop in close proximity, this Indian restaurant could help change that perception further. Let me tell you why.

You could be forgiven for walking past this unassuming eatery at the top of the street, just off London Road. Tasteful teak tables and chairs adorn this spacious dining room with a nifty tandoor oven providing a definitive focal point; they still haven’t asked if I want a shot yet (hint, hint). This is one you will either regret overlooking or pat yourself on the back for giving it a punt. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage charge, although it is licensed. I remember trying to order a bottle of wine on our first visit, only to be told: “You don’t need to buy a bottle. There’s a wine shop just up the road; there’s no hurry if you want to nip up and get something.”

Tonight, I start with probably my favourite starter from a menu that I can actually say I have worked my way through – the Rivage special (£3.75). There is no better description of this dish than that of fellow blogger Blythe (lunchquest.co.uk) who says this looks like “a Findus crispy pancake” but far more delicious and certainly unique to this restaurant. The filling is packed with precisely diced spicy chicken, onions and well-balanced spices. There’s a quenelle of tomato chutney on top with a fresh, dressed salad and cool yoghurt dressing to complete this exquisite starter.

Sarah usually favours the kebab-style option, be that the shikumpuri or, as in this instance, the Gulfan sheekh (£3.95). The juicy skewer of meat always has a distinct flavour, with a hint of chargrilled goodness, and you can taste the individual spices in this rather moreish dish. Again, it comes with a crisp salad and yoghurt garnish. A winner all day long.

The menu features an impressive range of vegetarian and fish options, but I fancied chicken jalfrezi (£7.95) on this occasion. It should be noted that we had half portions, as we had just eaten a big sharing platter but have priced as per menu. The tender chicken and crunchy peppers were sublime, coated in a light, mildly spiced and thick sauce. The rice, which we shared, was nutty and accurately cooked. The dish is well-seasoned, and again you can taste the different spices in there – often lost on many a generic Indian.

Sarah selected Murghi Malai (£7.95), which I couldn’t taste because of my nut allergy. She found the cashew nut and tomato sauce expertly blended, with the charred hints from the chicken offsetting the sweetness from the honey. I suppose it’s a more sophisticated version of a tikka masala-type dish. The one criticism is that we would have preferred the garlic naan to be reeking of the stuff, rather than a faint hint.

Rivage never fails to disappoint. It’s an Indian restaurant with personality and consistency that most restaurants can only dream of. Sure, you may have to wait a few minutes more for your dishes, but that’s soon forgotten when you tuck into the delectable delights on offer. The BYOB status is a pure bonus, so please give this one a bash.

Address: 126-130 Easter Road,
                EH7 5RJ.

Web: https://www.zomato.com/edinburgh/rivage-leith

Phone: (0131) 661 6888

Click to add a blog post for Rivage on Zomato
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16 August 2015

Review: Donald's Bistro, Duck's Inn, Aberlady

THE GOOD OLD British summer, or lack of, has brought a distinct lack of beer garden visits this year, seeing Sarah and I switch to road trips along the east coast for kicks.  The scenery was as beautiful as it ever today, as we check out what, we hoped, would be a real find at Donald’s Bar and Bistro in the quaint village of Aberlady. 

Owner Malcolm Duck took the time to chat beforehand, filling us in about his new chef and plans for the re-opening of the other eatery here at this restaurant with rooms – Duck's – that has long held two AA rosettes.  This will see a real focus on produce from around East Lothian feature on a refined menu -  watch this space.

Perhaps a goats’ cheese tart is not the most exciting sounding of dishes to a grace a menu these days, but nonetheless, done well, it can be a satisfying starter; this effort being in the latter category.  I dived into the tomato pesto, which impressed with garlicky notes and a zingy freshness.  The acidity married enchantingly with the creamy goats’ cheese. The pastry was cooked well enough but wasn’t overly warm, yet I found the goats’ cheese was piping hot; perhaps it had been blowtorched.  A neatly packed fresh salad of slightly bitter, dressed salad leaves was a sufficient  accompaniment for my £6.50.

Sarah’s starter was grilled asparagus with parmesan, olive oil, lemon and rocket (£6.95).  Asparagus season didn’t run into August in Britain last time I checked, but I’ll give this dish the benefit of the doubt (Peruvian asparagus is widely available), as it was immaculately presented and equally as well cooked.  Tender with a slight crunch, the cheese added a little saltiness, although a further smidgen of salt wouldn’t have done any harm.  There was a surprise element in the form of a chilli dressing, which was delicious enough to suggest a little more of it would have been a good thing.  

My main course of glazed short rib of Tweed Valley beef with mash, which I subbed for hand-cut chips, caramelised shallots and pickled celeriac had a lot to live up to with a price tag of £24.50; it didn’t disappoint.  The meat was delicious and slow-cooked perfectly to allow succulent, soft meat.  
The little brunoise of celeriac tells me this is a chef who has skill with a blade and the shallot relish was sticky and sweet.  I have to hold my hands up and say mash, as originally billed, would have suited this dish better, but those chips were so good, I could have just sat in the bar with them and a cold beer and been satisfied.

Priced at £18.95, Sarah opted for shellfish linguine with seared scallops, king prawns, chilli and garlic oil and confit cherry tomatoes. There is huge scope for error with a dish like this, but the execution of the scallops and prawns was flawless and clearly cooked with confidence, as  was the suitably al dente pasta.  There was a waft of garlic, which I love and a pleasant burst from the confit tomatoes to boot. There was some spinach in there to add greenery and further flavour, and again, the presentation was neat and tidy.

Our young French waiter was very polite throughout the evening, as was his female colleague, who offered particularly good service across the dining room, answering a few questions confidently and knowledgeably.

Dessert on this occasion was a decent chocolate marquise with cherry compote and white chocolate mousse (£6.95). There was nothing wrong with the slab of chocolate; I simply would have preferred a stronger type, but it was smooth and at the correct serving temperature.  The cherry compote brought sweet and sourness to the dish but was a good foil and I was thankful that the mousse wasn’t too sickly.

For Sarah, she went for the good old sticky toffee pudding (£6.50) which seems to be coming back into fashion.  It always makes me think back to my college days when chef Edwards used to boast his sticky toffee pud was the best in the world.  He might be right.  Anyway, I liked the ginger flavours running through this and felt it really enhanced this version. The ice cream was creamy and a no-fail partner for it.

A fulfilling dinner at Donald’s has left us pretty impressed, particularly with kitchen’s handiwork and the front of house team.  The prices are competitive and need to be if you’re going to leave the city centre for a visit.  However, on this evidence, it’s definitely worth a trip. 

Phone: (01875) 870 682
Address: Main Street,
               EH32 0RE

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23 July 2015

Recipe: Seafood Chowder

SO MANY PEOPLE have told me that they're "afraid" of cooking fish, but I always say the key is in the simplicity of it. My favourite methods are steaming or, as in this instance, poaching in an infused liquid - both quick, no fuss ways of cooking.  

I firmly believe that meat-laden diets with a lack of fresh veg and seafood are a huge part of health problems in the Western world, so I'm making more of a conscious effort to eat more fish - starting with this speedy recipe.

If I have one key tip, it's to aim to almost undercook the fish, allowing the latent heat finish it off as you plate and take to the table - happy cooking!

Ingredients (serves 2):

1x Scottish haddock fillet, cut into chunks
1x undyed smoked haddock fillet, cut into chunks
Handful of Scottish mussels, debearded and washed
1x small leek, finely chopped
1x banana shallot, finely chopped
1x carrot, cut into brunoise (small cubes)
Pint of fish stock, or water if you don't have time to make it
Large glass of white wine
1x bay leaf
1x bouquet garni 
250mls, double cream
Unsalted butter
1 tbsp tomato puree
4x medium potatoes (I used Cypriot ones here), parboiled and sliced for sauteing 
Handful of dill, picked


1) Begin by melting a knob of butter in a frying pan with a splash of oil.  Once hot, place the potatoes in the pan and season.  Flip the potatoes over when golden and set aside on some kitchen paper when both sides are done.

2) Melt the butter in a pan and begin to sweat the leek, carrot and shallot. Once softened, add the tomato puree and stir for one minute.  Next, add the white wine and allow to reduce by half.

3) Have a tight fitting lid handy and toss in the mussels.  Put lid on and leave for 2-3 mins, occasionally shaking the pot as you go.  When the shells have opened, the mussels are cooked.  Discard any that don't open. 

4) Pass the liquid through a sieve into another pot, picking out the mussels for later.  Now you have all the juices from the mussels in the broth, add the veg back into the pan.

5) Add the stock, bay leaf and bouquet garni.  Bring to the boil and reduce heat to gently simmer. If you have the time, turn off the heat and allow the aromatics infuse for a good 20 minutes.

6) Add the cream and stir until combined. Gently cook for 5-6 mins until it thickens slightly.  Now add the haddock and poach for no more than two minutes. Season to taste.

7) Place the potatoes in the bottom of a bowl and gently ladle the fish mixture over.  Place the mussels around it and dress with the fresh dill.

For information on sourcing seasonal and sustainable fish visit: https://www.msc.org/

Always use a responsible fishmonger. 
Fish comes from Welch Fishmongers, 34 Great Junction Street, Leith, EH6 5LA

19 July 2015

Competition: Win Tickets to Foodies Festival 2015 at Inverleith Park

THIS YEAR MARKS the 10th anniversary of Foodies Festivals across the UK and, not only am I delighted to be part of their official blogging team, I also have two pairs of tickets to give away for the Edinburgh leg at Inverleith Park between the 7th-9th August.

Following the success of last year's event, the organisers have decided to increase the festival by a whopping 50%, meaning more great food, demonstrations from top chefs and amazing drinks across this three-day event.

All you have to do to win is answer this simple question:

On a recent trip to London, I spent an evening in the kitchen with a two Michelin-starred chef, but who was it?

A) Phil Howard (The Square)
B) Marcus Wareing (Marcus)
C) Michel Roux Jr. (Le Gavroche) 

Send your answers HERE and a two lucky winners will be picked at random (please specify which of the three days you would like to attend).


If you don't win - don't fret! Tickets are available on the day or by following the information below.

Tickets are on sale now at www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111

Friday adult day ticket £10.00 (£8.00 concession)
Saturday or Sunday adult day ticket £13.00 (£11.00 concession)
3-day adult ticket £20.00 (£16.00 concession)
Friday VIP ticket £35.00
Saturday or Sunday VIP ticket £38.00
VIP tickets include a welcome glass of bubbly, access to the VIP tent with private bar and refreshments throughout the day, priority entry to food and drink masterclasses, a goody bag and a show guide.
All children aged 12 and under go free to all Foodies Festivals when accompanied by an adult.

Open times:
Friday 7th August11am – 7pm
Saturday 8th August: 10am – 8pm
Sunday 9th August: 10am – 7pm

17 July 2015

Review: The Magnum, Edinburgh

GIVEN THE DISTINCT lack of summer we’ve been having, I think this sunny(ish) day has to go down as one of the better ones, as we laud the happy drinkers outside The Magnum on Albany Street. Sarah and I had enjoyed a visit to this gastropub last year, meaning there would be added scrutiny this time around.

As it happens, the same table was free, so we plonked down at the window and admired the surrounding Georgian architecture of the New Town, whilst sipping on a rather refreshing Chenin Blanc (The Veldt Range, 2014 from South Africa, priced at £18.95).

I always lean towards cullen skink when it crops up on the menu, but it was too humid a day (boo hoo)  for a hot soup.  Instead, I ordered beetroot cured salmon gravadlax with celeriac remoulade, beetroot puree and pumpernickel bread (£7.20).  It certainly passed the presentation test, vibrant purples contrasting with lusciously green micro herbs.  The purple parts consisted of deliciously fresh cured salmon and an earthy puree that we know always works, but what elevated this dish was the warmth of wholegrain mustard from the creamy, crunchy remoulade.

Sarah elected to start with The Magnum’s play on haggis (vegetarian in this instance), neeps ‘n’ tatties with a whisky and thyme sauce (£6.50). Three neat quenelles of the above ticked all the boxes: smooth mash, good quality haggis and a well-cooked turnip element were complemented by a light whisky sauce that had hints of thyme, but maybe could have done with a splash more of whisky.

Mains were again a difficult choice due to the appeal of the menu offerings, but I settled (I say like it’s a chore; it wasn’t) for venison haunch with a black pudding croquette, purple carrots and kale with a redcurrant reduction all for the sum of £19.50. Excellent presentation again, in what turned out to be a real satisfying dish.  The tender meat was expertly dispatched and clearly well rested, while the carrots still had crunch and married well with the meat.  I really liked the gently sweated red onions running throughout; they brought texture and, along with the irony kale, colour while offsetting the sweetness of the venison. Eating each element together with that black pudding really gives you maximum satisfaction – delicious.

Pan-fried sea bass with sumac-coated king prawns, croutons, charred red pepper and a chilli and orange dressing (£17.50) was Sarah’s main and, again, the portion size was generous to say the least.  The fish was soft, succulent and sufficiently seasoned, but maybe the skin could have been crisper. I don’t really get the relevance of the prawns, although there was nothing wrong with them as such.  The sweetness and charred notes of the peppers were a real highlight, with an acidity from the orange that sliced through the bass. We debated the fruit and fish combo… it’s still going on, but a good plate of food nonetheless.

For once, I didn’t have a big lunch before going out for dinner and I was glad by the time desserts came.  Mine,  cranachan cheesecake with red berry coulis and raspberry and vanilla compote (£6.50) with the lady’s dish consisting of chocolate fudge cake with cherries in red wine syrup and chocolate ganache (£6.75).

The cheesecake base was thin and short – I distress at seeing thick biscuit bases.  The filling was speckled with oats throughout and, rather pleasingly, wasn’t too heavy.  A more pronounced whisky taste would have been welcomed, but the freshness of the fruit and a top-drawer compote meant that this was an ideal dish to end the meal on.

Over the table, Sarah tackled a light, chocolate pudding that sported an oozy, cherry-laden, fondant-esque centre  The ganache was rich and finger licking good, with the freshness from strawberries harmonising the richness of the plate.

The Magnum had a lot to live up to after our last visit, but it dealt with those expectations confidently, with superbly presented plates of food at reasonable prices.  Well worth a visit if you’re in and around the town centre.

Web: http://www.themagnumrestaurant.co.uk/
Phone: (0131) 557 4366
Address: 1 Albany Street,
                EH 1 3PY
The Magnum Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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